USC Digital Folklore Archives / February, 2012
Customs
Folk Beliefs
general
Magic
Stereotypes/Blason Populaire

No-hitters

My informant talked about pitchers and their no-hitters. A no-hitter is the instance when a pitcher throws a complete game without letting one opposing hitter get on base by getting a hit. Most players will recognize if a pitcher has a no hitter going at around the middle of the game, about the sixth or seventh inning. According to my informant, it is bad luck, or a jinx on the pitcher to talk in the dugout about the pitcher’s prospective no-hitter. For example, for someone to look up at the scoreboard and notice the chance of a no-hitter and say something to someone like, “Hey, look at that he’s got a no-hitter going. You think he’ll do it?”, is believed that almost always the no-hitter will end right at that point. In fact, at the first sound of any no-hitter talk in the dugout, you can be sure that someone is going to strike it down very quickly.

Folk speech
general
Proverbs

Pride goes before a fall.

This phrase was first told to me by mom when I was about eight or nine. She continues to remind me of even now, at the age of twenty-one. She can always tell when I’m beginning to get a swelled ego, and she will quickly bring me back down to earth with this phrase. As I have had success in baseball, there are times when things are going so well on the field that it can make one feel like he’s invincible; like he can do no wrong. At times like that my mom will hit me with the phrase “Remember, the Bible says, ‘Pride goes before a fall.’ Always give all the glory to God.”

This proverb likely carries most of it’s weight in religious circles, because it actually comes from the book of Proverbs in the Bible. In the religious sense, many believe that pridefulness leads to sin and destruction because it will cause a person to rely on himself or herself rather than relying on God.

Annotation: This proverb can be found in the Bible in the book of Proverbs 16:18.

Contagious
Folk Beliefs
general
Magic
Stereotypes/Blason Populaire

“Twos”

My informant and I talked about a superstition that has been prevalent in college baseball for at least twenty-one years (since I’ve been alive). This superstition is called “Twos”. My informant explained that the actions that encompass Twos occur in a game when there are two balls, two strikes, and two outs, all at once. When this occurs, all the players in the dugout, usually both on the side of the offense and the defense, will in unison do something like rub the bill of their cap with their right hand until the pitch is thrown, or kneel down and pick up a but of dirt and throw it in the direction of the field as soon as the pitcher lets go of the ball. There is even a ritual called “The Radar” where all the players in the dugout hold out their hats toward the pitcher, as if it was a radar gun, while the pitcher throws the ball.

Since both sides of a ball game carry out these acts, there are two objectives. For the offense, the idea is to get the batter to a full count (which is three balls and two strikes instead of two balls and two strikes), or get him to get a hit. The defense’s objective then is just the opposite, and that’s to will the pitcher to a strikeout, ground out or pop up. This superstitious ritual is carried out by teams nationwide. See for yourself the next time the College World Series is on.

Folk speech
general
Proverbs

If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.

My mom repeatedly told me this phrase throughout my young childhood. It was usually when my sister and I would be fighting or have an argument. Sometimes I would be so angry with her, for what ever petty reason, and we would just go back and forth yelling and calling each other names. To get the initial arguing stopped, and curb the name calling, my mom would often sternly exclaim, “ Stop it right now! You know you’re not supposed to talk like that! If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.”

When my mom would say that to us our arguments would quickly come to an end. It just made sense, when she would say that I would quickly think to myself of anything I could say to my sister at that moment that was not malicious. Many times I would have to remain silent, but occasionally I could come up with something nice to say, and after that fighting just seemed stupid.

Annotation: This phrase can be found in the movie Bambi, by Walt Disney Productions (Which makes me think that’s where she got it from).

Customs
Folk Beliefs
Folk speech
general
Proverbs
Stereotypes/Blason Populaire

A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.

My informant first heard the phrase from her husband about twenty years ago. The two of them were in their car in the parking lot of a shopping center looking for a space to park in. The parking lot was quite full, and my informant was getting impatient, as they had been driving around looking for a space for some time. Finally the husband came upon a parking space deep in the back of the parking lot. My informant did not want to have to walk that far to the store, so she told her husband to continue looking for a space closer to the store she wanted to go to. At this, the husband told my
informant, “A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.”

The husband used this analogy to explain that even though the spot they found was not the bast spot, continuing to search for a closer spot that didn’t exist at the time was not wise because there were no guarantees that they would ever actually find that closer spot. In other words, the spot they had was better than the prospective closer spot that wasn’t available.

Annotation: This phrase can be found in the Living Bible Version of the Bible in Ecclesiastes 6:9.

Folk Beliefs
general
Stereotypes/Blason Populaire

Irish Purse Superstition

My informant’s Irish ancestry has a belief about women’s purses. It is seen as bad luck for a woman to leave her purse on the ground, even for a second. Many believe that setting one’s purse on the ground will cause all the money in that purse to “run away”, leaving the owner with nothing. According to my informant, taking care of one’s money is very important to the Irish people, and to set it down, leaving it out of one’s attention and control, is seen as practically throwing money away for the very reason that without a hold on one’s purse, it could easily get lost, or worse be stolen by someone taking advantage of one’s neglectfulness. It seems like putting one’s purse down is about as much bad luck as being ignorant is.

Folk Beliefs
general
Legends
Magic

僵尸 (Jiang Shi)

These are more commonly known as Chinese Zombies. Unlike the western concept of Zombies, these do not go around looking for human flesh. Instead, these are often the minions of magicians or sorcerers that do their bidding. However, like their western counterparts, they have no will of their own. Jiang shi tend not to be able to walk, but hop with their arms outstretched perpendicular from their bodies.  For cadavers to become jiang shi, the magician needs to paste a talisman with a spell on the forehead of the corpse. No one knows how these talismans are created. Supposedly, there are two ways to ‘kill’ these creatures, one of which is to destroy the talisman pasted on their foreheads, but this is excruciatingly difficult as these creature are more than twice as strong as a normal human and impervious to most weapons. The other way to destroy them is to kill their creators. It is recommended, instead, to throw glutinous rice at them. The rice is known to hurt them and therefore slow them down. It is not known why this happens but it does.

                  This creature was made known to my informant when he was growing up in China. He does not quite recall where he heard it from. However, these creatures are not just confined to China, as my informant has heard a version of these creatures when he arrived in Singapore as well. It is assumed that most countries with Chinese would have these creatures as they are made from corpses, and all you’d need to know is the talisman making ritual.

The magicians that create these are usually from the Taoist traditions. Strangely enough, there is no devil in this situation. Unlike most western and Latin American ghouls and creatures, no hint of Christianity has appeared in this particular piece of folklore. In fact, this black magic is based in the dark-side of things and the unnatural.

Chinese mythology does have demons and the devil, but they just balance each other out. A binary opposition because of the yin-yang, light-dark, everything has an opposite in nature. There are good magicians as well, but they draw on a different source of power in nature.

Folk speech
general
Humor
Riddle

Zhao

Shine

一个日本人,

yi ge ri ben ren

One Japanese Man

站在门口,

zhan zai men kou

Standing at the doorway

拿着一把刀,

na zhe yi ba dao

Holding a knife

杀了四个人。

sha le si ge ren

He kills four people

 

This was learned by my informant when she was growing up in Singapore in school, when she was about ten or eleven years of age. While she can’t quite recall who she learnt it from, she said it was rather useful for learning characters in Chinese.  It is in essence a word riddle, in which the bottom four lines would be told to the other person and the other person would try to guess what the word was.

Even though there is supposedly nothing meant by the content (morbid as it is), it is just there because it fits the word. However, when my informant was growing up during the 1950s and 60s in Singapore there was a great deal of resentment against the Japanese for WWII. The words of this riddle could originate as a subtle form of anti-Japanese rebellion or statement for the brutal acts that they performed in Singapore and most of South East and East Asia.

During World War II, it was very common for Japanese soldiers to enter houses indiscriminately and slaughter whole families for numerous trumped up charges, like being Chinese, or having a wife that the soldier found mildly attractive or even looking at them wrong. Therefore this might be a reflection of not only this anti-Japanese sentiment but also oppositional culture.

Folk speech
general
Proverbs

泥菩萨过江, 自身难保

Ni pu sa guo jiang, zi shen nan bao

Mud [Buddha] cross river,  self body hard protect

 When the mud Buddha crosses the river, it can’t protect itself.

My informant learnt this during her middle school years in Singapore. As every proverb has a lesson behind it, this proverb was to teach children not to try and help people while themselves are drowning because they’ll only make matters worse.

This is an example of how religious symbols integrate themselves into the culture of the Chinese. While China is a very diverse country, in contexts of food, religion and language, there is still a mainstream culture that is still prevalent and relevant to most Chinese.

Most Chinese follow the Buddhist tradition and that tradition preaches being helpful and charitable to the poor and those less fortunate than you are. However, no matter how helpful the ’Buddha’ is attempting to be, a statue made out of mud tries to go through a river, it’ll only manage to self destruct. This brings the other part of the proverb into light, as even something like if Buddha cannot protect itself, it should not try and help other people.

Folk speech
general
Proverbs

守株待兔, 不劳而获

Shou zhu dai tu, bu lao er huo

Protect tree wait rabbit, no work and gain

Don’t wait for the rabbit to dash its head against a tree, to gain without work

This was first learnt by my informant when he was a young boy in Putian, a small village in the province of Fujian. He assumes that this is to teach children that there are no rewards without hard work as the likely hood of a rabbit dashing its head against a tree is very small. This discourages laziness in the hopes that the child would work hard and accomplish great things in the future.

In fact, according to my informant, there was a back story involved with this proverb as well. While he did not tell me the whole story, the gist of it was that a farmer was out one day looking for food, when suddenly, a rabbit ran into the tree in front of him and died. The farmer was so happy to have food that night that he kept venturing out to the same tree in the hope that another rabbit would perform the same feat. Day after day, the farmer kept going out and the rabbit never came. Eventually, this happy tale ends with the farmer starving to death.

In the past, much of the Chinese economy was agricultural based, and even now, most of China is very dependent on farming and fishing. To many of them, to follow a blind hope such as this, instead of cultivating the crops that they had at home is just foolishness. The Chinese also prize hard work and just rewards a lot more than luck. For example, from the Tang dynasty onward, hardworking scholars could become court officials if they did well at the examinations in the capital. Therefore, it can be inferred that this proverb was to encourage young children that there are no rewards in slacking and the results of laziness can often be dire.

Annotation: Huaxia.com.  http://www.huaxia.com/wh/jdgs/cydg/00096705.html 24 April 2007

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